Email use in elementary school: an analysis of exchange patterns and content

Hans van der Meij, Kerst Boersma

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Email was embedded in a project in design and technology education in elementary school. During four lessons children worked in groups on building a flying object. These groups communicated through email with groups of children from another school. The analyses of the emails, as viewed from distributed cognition theory, focus on the exchange patterns and content. Two characteristic exchange patterns are stacking and compounding. In stacking emails are sent out quickly enough to afford a "just-in-time" exchange of information. In compounding the emails transcend lessons. An "old" section of the email reacts to the partner’s email about a previous lesson. A "new" section deals with the current lesson. Question-answer exchanges accounted for only about 15% of the communications. Connected discourse with explicit or implicit references to the partner’s email was likewise scarce. Groups mainly connected to each other through adoption, leading to shared scenarios of "We tell you our story—You tell us yours". The conclusion discusses the impact of the task on the children’s communication. Among others, a precise definition and teaming of the task is deemed necessary to favour embedded email use. Because the genre of email use in elementary school is yet to be defined the authors caution against imposing many constraints on what children write to each other.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)189-200
Number of pages12
JournalBritish journal of educational technology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2002


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